Globe to Globe: The Comedy of Errors in Dari Persian (Afghanistan)

It’s good that Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play. It’s a very silly plot and it doesn’t overstay itself. I left the Globe thinking I had just seen a jolly, rapid-fire production of an insubstantial play, which was true, but the more I think about Roy-e-Sabs’ production the more the subtext and the subversiveness settles into me.

All photos (c) Simon Annand

Parwin Mushtahel was double-cast as Adriana and the border guard who arrests Egeon and takes him to his death sentence. In Kabul, her husband was murdered due to her acting career and she fled the country; if she returned she would be confronted with a hostile, malicious bureaucrat exactly like the one she plays in the opening scene.

With a background like that, it feels like we should be seeing a gloomy, incisive attack on the regime. But this is silly and joyous. Which is probably one of the best ways to revolt.

The two cities Syracuse and Ephesus were changed to Samarqand and Kabul. The Antipholus and Dromio of Samarqand were cheerfully Westernised, in jeans and trainers, taking Facebook pictures of themselves (and the groundlings!) when they arrived in Kabul. But they were soon set straight – a bazaar clothes seller quickly pushed them into less dangerous traditional clothes.

Roy-e-Sabs satirised fundamentalist Islam while lovingly centring on the calm heart of the religion. The courtesan (Farzana Sayed Ahmad, hilarious, who doubled as Luciana) popped up in tight jeans and sunglasses, and the two tourists from Samarqand agreed: she was a terrifying witch, and they desperately wanted to sleep with her. It was a spot-on highlight of the hypocritical dichotomy – “women are evil and I want to have sex with them” – of so many men in culturally conservative religions. Yet the call to prayer sounded twice during the play, and each time the characters attended to it joyfully and unreservedly (aside from a bit of comedy scuffling from the Samarqand boys). All the characters were wholeheartedly Muslim and happy to be so – the villain was the conservative theocratic state.

The second-best kind of comedy is aimed at tweaking the nose of the powerful. (The best kind involves trousers falling down, which they did here, too.) The Kabul of Roy-e-Sabs, like the Kabul the company knows in real life, is true, beautiful and run by murderers. The characters are living, loving and trying to stay out of torturous prison. And find their long-lost twin brothers and hook up with the right sister and track down your wife who’s retired to a convent (some of these less relevant to most Kabul residents these days).

In the overall festival, the Globe was trying a bit hard to make some of its productions Meaningful. It suggested the Palestinian company do Richard II (Ashtar originally asked for the Taming of the Shrew, citing their interest in gender subversiveness), then adopted a naive “Gosh, that’s unexpectedly topical of them, isn’t it?” tone in press material. South Sudan’s Cymbeline was talked up as being about the founding of a nation through war, even though the play doesn’t really do that. Roy-e-Sabs’ Comedy of Errors was a publicist’s fantasy, and a playgoer’s as well: subversive, funny, frothy and dangerous.

Would that all farces were so on the nose.

I saw Globe to Globe’s The Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare’s Globe on May 31, 2012.

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